My summer holiday reading has been “Buildings of Empire” by Ashley Jackson. As the title suggests, this is a grand tour around landmark examples of the built environment legacy of the British Empire. Twelve fluently written chapters take us from Dublin Castle to the iconic Raffles Hotel in Singapore, before returning the reader to the Empire Stadium at Wembley.
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If you are 30 years old, then 260 million people have moved from rural China into its cities during your life time. This amounts to more than half of the current EU population. 117M moved in the decade between 2000 and 2010. Environmental pollution in many of these cities is still terrible, and for many migrants the housing conditions remain well below acceptable western norms. However, a case can also be made that this has been the most successful mass-migration from the countryside in human history. But now serious questions are being asked, and reform is on the agenda.
“Architecture is for people”. This is how the new Danish Architecture Policy begins. The Danish government sees architecture as defining the country at home and internationally. It is about competitiveness, moving towards sustainability and social cohesion. The new policy depicts architecture as contributing to “the development of the welfare state”, and says that local authorities have a key role to play. “The municipalities set the overall goals and visions for an area’s physical development and implement the realization of the visions in a dialogue with the public and with market players.”
Will the UN adopt a post-2015 Sustainable Development Goal addressing urbanisation and human settlements? The draft for the new goals will be agreed early in June, before going to the UN General Assembly for what is expected to be formal endorsement. Thus this month is crucial, and planners, other construction professions, urban researchers and civic bodies need to be making their voices heard quickly.
I was in Botswana recently. Planning there is going through a significant transformation. New legislation that came into force in April 2014 will see significant devolution of planning powers to 16 District-level authorities. Twelve of these are rural. As planning goes local the challenge will be to deliver a more strategic and sophisticated form of planning, and to ensure that young planners beginning their professional careers in remote parts of the country get the support they will need to deliver the new planning system. RTPI accreditation of the planning programme at University of Botswana will support this significant transition.
In May in Vienna there will be a unique event. It will bring together sixteen people who have been leading figures in the academic development of planning over the past decades – or fifteen and me to be more accurate! The Evolution of Planning Thought project seeks to collect an oral history of how ideas about planning have developed, and to do it before the Grim Reaper silences those who played leading roles. It’s international planning history through the eyes of those who created it.
Like many planners I am a fan of the movies, and especially fascinated by films where place is central to the narrative. Over the weekend I was lucky enough to see not one, but two films about cities. They have a lot of similarities but also many differences. They are Fellini’s Roma and Terence Davies’ reflections on Liverpool, Of Time and the City. What do they tell us about today’s urban situation?
The newly published third report on The State of African Cities shows how informal development is a key force in the continent’s urbanisation, yet also poses major dilemmas. The report’s sub-title “Re-imagining sustainable urban transitions” suggests both the need to come up with new answers, but also the elusiveness of solutions. Anybody interested in Africa, sustainable development or planning should read it and ponder what can be done.
Metropolitan growth receives less attention than it deserves. The spread of metropolitan regions is one of the defining features of the age, yet as most of it is taking place in the developing world it goes largely unremarked by Western planners and urbanists. Of course, we have our own metropolitan regions that are deeply problematic in terms of governance and equity. However, the overcrowded commuter trains, chronic congestion, widening rich-poor gap and rampant housing shortages have become so commonplace that few commentators connect them into a narrative of metropolitanisation. Thus a new book, The Art of Shaping the Metropolis by the World Bank’s Senior Urban Planner is a welcome event.
The celebration of the centenary of the RTPI this year, and the centenary of the International Federation for Housing and Planning in 2013 are reminders of the origins of modern urban planning, and in particular of the historic links between planning and public health. A century on, the time is ripe to look at the links between health and place globally. The illnesses and premature mortality which the founding fathers of town planning sought to eradicate by better housing, more open space and access to community facilities still stalk the billion people who live in slums today.